From the memory foam in your mattress to the advanced alloys in your tennis racquet, NASA is behind some of the biggest technological advances of our time. Now, the space agency is giving other inventors the chance to build on those by letting them use its patents — for free.

NASA’s Technology Transfer Program says it’s opening up its patent portfolio and waiving the costs associated with using the patents for at least the first three years of a company’s product development. Once a start-up has brought the product to market, NASA will start collecting a “standard net royalty fee,” but otherwise inventors will be able to use the patents however they like.

Combining NASA technologies, or building on them in new ways, could lead to further advances in materials science, communications, manufacturing, heath and medicine or robotics, to name a few. NASA maintains a searchable database of all the eligible patents for licensing under its start-up initiative. They cover everything from an airplane that can fly in low-density atmospheres like Mars to to lie-detection technology.


NASA offered tips for ‘The Martian’

When Ridley Scott was making “The Martian,” the new science-heavy film that has Matt Damon stranded on Mars, he did what few film directors ever get the chance to do: He called NASA.

Over several teleconferences, James L. Green, the director of the space agency’s Planetary Science Division, guided Scott and his team through the current scholarship, ensuring that the science and designs for the film would be as accurate as possible.

“We just wanted to help him paint the picture,” said Green, a key figure in the Mars exploration efforts.

The collaboration is underscored by the simultaneous release of “The Martian” and the revelation in the journal Nature Geoscience that researchers have discovered evidence of present-day liquid water on Mars. The discovery advances scientists’ inquiry into life under Mars’ brutal conditions — exactly the focus of “The Martian.”


Feeders may spread bird disease

North American songbirds are vulnerable to a common, naturally occurring disease called mycoplasmal conjunctivitis, which causes red and swollen eyes. It’s a type of pinkeye, and sometimes it leads to blindness — which soon leads to death.

Humans can’t get this disease, but research from scientists at Virginia Tech suggests they may be helping to spread it among birds. And they are doing so with good intentions — by putting out bird feeders.

The birds that spent the most time at the feeders, rather than foraging in the wild, had the highest incidence of disease.

So what can bird-loving humans do? Disinfect the feeder every time you refill it.

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